Judith Collins says she wasn't aware of rumours her colleague Alfred Ngaro might be quitting the party to form his own.
NZME reported on Friday the former Cabinet minister is planning to lead a new Christian conservative party, potentially providing National with another coalition partner at next year's election.
The plan works like this: National won't run a candidate in the Botany electorate, currently held by rogue former National MP Jami-Lee Ross. Instead they'd encourage voters to give Ngaro the tick, in much the same way they currently prop up ACT in Epsom.
"We do get MMP," Collins told The AM Show on Friday, saying it's the first she's heard of the alleged plan. "We've got MMP around Epsom for instance, over the years. There's a lot of rumour and speculation, but look - I'd say it's an interesting idea."
National does run candidates in Epsom, but with the clear message to give the electorate vote to ACT.
ACT used to bring in a few MPs, but since 2011 has only had one, and its share of the party vote has fallen every election since 2008. With the only other viable coalition partner NZ First siding with Labour over the past couple of decades and National's polling in freefall, the party desperately needs more options.
"We've never said that we're just going to charge in and say in 2020 it's all about us. It's not," said Collins. "We've understood for a long time that we always need to have colleagues and friends. I just think it's an interesting idea. I don't know quite what's going on there."
Ross has held the Botany seat for National since 2011, but quit the party last year after accusing leader Simon Bridges of corruption. Ross told The AM Show he'd be happy to give Ngaro a tour of the electorate, but "his commute from west Auckland might be a bit far".
Ngaro is presently a list MP based in Te Atatū, but there is a strong Christian conservative community in Auckland's south and east. Te Atatu itself usually votes for the Labour candidate, but the party vote is more evenly split.
Political commentator Bryce Edwards told The AM Show it's an idea that could work.
"People will be a bit cynical that he's on this exercise - an attempt to manipulate the system, really. That's what Labour will really fire at... that it's not real. It's not organic. It's just an attempt to do a dirty deal.
"Of course that will hinder the project to some extent, but the target market won't care about this. Those conservative Christian voters, they do want representation in Parliament."
Whether it's a success or not will depend on whether National's socially liberal supporters will be willing to "hold their noses".
"What will they be wanting? That will be a tarnishing effect that could make this difficult."
On the plus side, Dr Edwards says Ngaro isn't as extreme as Destiny Church fundamentalist Brian Tamaki or even Colin Craig, whose Conservative Party came within a whisker of making into Parliament in 2014.
"This is quite a respectable, solid National Party former Cabinet minister. Ngaro is someone I think National will be able to trust as not going a bit crazy."
Ngaro reportedly has one high-profile Conservative firebrand on his side - Family First director Bob McCoskrie, who told NZME there's a gap in the market for a Christian party, citing unease over changes to legislation around euthanasia, cannabis and abortion, as well as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's condemnation of homophobic rugby star Israel Folau.
Dr Edwards said having another viable option would be good for MMP and democracy.
"There's a lot of voters looking around for a socially conservative voice."
A spokesperson for the National Leader's Office said there have been "no discussions about deals in seats going on", but didn't deny that a new party was in the works.
"There's always a lot of rumour and speculation around coalition partners. We've always said options will appear before the election.
"We've already seen the Sustainable New Zealand Party. Time will tell what else comes up."